I made a purchase yesterday, I bought myself a Dutch pot. I have wanted to buy one for ages and a new shop opened in my area so even though my bank card cried as I tapped on the machine, I did it anyway. When I got home my parents asked me where I bought it from, I said there is a new store opened at KTS. Now KTS closed down around 15 years ago but it is easier for me to use that landmark as opposed to saying “you know the store on the high street on the corner opposite the pub next to the McDonalds”.
I don’t know if it is a cultural thing but Ghanaians have a way with the English language which is fascinating, so I thought I would write a little guide so if you are not too familiar you don’t get unstuck.
To begin with I will start of with Tea.
Tea is used to describe any hot beverage, Tea, Coffee, Hot Chocolate, they all fall under the umbrella of tea. Therefore if you want something specific you need to break it down. You would think that saying ok, I will have coffee. Nope. If you want coffee, it’s Nescafe. Hot Chocolate is Milo and Tea is Lipton.
If you are purchasing a newspaper, it is Graphic. The daily Graphic is one of the largest newspapers in Ghana (and not so politically biased) so if anyone asks you for Graphic, they just want a newspaper.
We call every toothpaste Pepsodent, every noodle, Indomie and all stock cubes are Maggi and every detergent is Omo. If you go into a store and ask for anything other than this, they will look at you like you are speaking French (we do love our brand names).
If you need a top up voucher for your phone, call out the appropriate service provider, MTN, Vodafone, Airtel, you don’t need to bother going into the details, they will know what you are talking about.
Ghanaians are very polite and use the word “please” in abundance. It’s a cultural thing, don’t ask them to stop saying this word, it’s in our DNA. So for example a conversation will go like this:
“Good Morning, How are you?”
“Please, I am fine.”
“Would you like some cake?”
If someone is going out “please, I am going now”, and on their return “please, I am back” (just in case you haven’t realised that the person is back).
It is not uncommon for someone to call you Auntie, Uncle, Ma, Dad, Sister, Brother (sorry Oprah and Ava). It is a sign of respect it doesn’t necessarily make you old. I remember when I was younger and a child called me Auntie, I was thinking “I’m not old”, now if a child calls me by my first name I get mad, because we are Ghanaians, I am not your co-equal as my elders would say.
Speaking of elders, when you walk past anyone but especially your elders you must greet them with a “Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening”, if you don’t, you will be told that you are being disrespectful. I remember I had got so used to saying this that when I got back to UK I was greeting everyone, they looked at me like I was crazy. Then when I went to Ghana on holiday, I smiled at an elderly gentleman as I was walking past, but didn’t say “Good Morning”. He stopped me to ask me why I didn’t greet him.
We now have street names and door numbers in Ghana but ask for directions and nobody is going to use them. This is probably where you get the most chat. What you will probably get is something like this. “ok, so you keep going to straight, and then you will see a woman selling fried yams by the mango tree, when you get there, keep going straight ahhhh, then you will see a shell filling station, you get to the filling station, then branch left onto the rough road, there you will see a storey building, once you get there, keep going straight, and it’s the blue house on the right”. Or if they know roughly where the place is, they will give you that long explanation and then say something like that “when you get to the storey building, ask anyone they should know the place”.
So that’s just my little guide to get you started. At times it’s crazy but I do love my people.